Innovation & Entrepreneurship

Innovation & Entrepreneurship

The rise and rise of Germany’s medtech sector, and the challenges that lie ahead



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Known for its commitment to research and innovation since medieval times, Germany now has the world’s third largest medtech market. A global reputation for quality and precision in development and manufacturing has also made German medical device companies consistently attractive to foreign interests, strengthening the country’s offering even further amid an increasingly competitive world market. Berlin-based writer Melinda Barlow studies the scene

german medical device companies

Europe’s medtech powerhouse

After the USA, Europe is the world’s second biggest market for medical technologies. Within the European market, Germany alone is responsible for almost 30 per cent of the €100 billion medtech industry, with an annual sales turnover of more than €27 billion. It seems innovation is key to the market’s strength, with a third of that turnover coming from either new products or those that are less than three years old. There are currently around 12,500 German medical device companies employing almost 200,000 people, and these mirror the pattern in the rest of Europe, where 95 per cent of medtech companies are small- to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) that operate with an annual turnover of less than €50 million and fewer than 250 employees.

The next great product idea is just a moment away, and the capacity for new ideas is seemingly endless: the European Patent Office (EPO) reports patent applications for medical technologies as the leading category for more than 15 consecutive years. German medical device companies alone are responsible for 12 per cent of these, ahead of Switzerland, France and the Netherlands with 4 per cent each.

Germany’s key medtech development regions

Most of Germany’s medtech companies are located in the south around Stuttgart in Baden Württemberg. The region’s main focus is on dental materials and equipment, and surgical mechanics, and key players include B.Braun, Zeiss and Roche Diagnostics.

Baden Württemberg may have the greatest density of medtech companies, but Bavaria boasts the big names. With Munich at its centre, Bavaria alone produces 60 per cent of Germany’s electro-medical equipment and, thanks to global players such as Siemens Medical Solutions, GlaxoSmithKline and Novartis Pharma, 70 per cent of Bavarian-made medtech products are exported to international markets.

Further north, the regions of Berlin and Brandenburg are also holding their own. Berlin is known for companies specialising in medical imaging and that’s why companies like Visage Imaging and World of Medicine have chosen to locate their EU headquarters or branches in the capital.

North Rhine-Westphalia is the highly industrious region bordering the Netherlands and Belgium, and its most widely known landmark is the Bayer sign. The company was founded in the region and is one of its biggest and oldest employers. Sharing the market are some of the world’s key global players including 3M Medica, Medtronic and Sarstedt. Technology in the region focuses on healthcare service provision, preventive medicine and management, among other specialties.

The German government is, of course, well engaged with all of this activity and its High Tech Strategy 2020 includes support for more than 30 medtech cluster networks across the country to foster collaborative innovation through sharing funding, resources, facilities and training.

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German medtech specialisms

Medtech developments are not limited to one sector or category in the German market. German-designed medical devices such as prosthetics and implants are giving consumers greater levels of freedom and mobility, and are responsible for one of the largest outputs in German medtech manufacturing. Theranostics combines therapeutic applications with diagnostic tools, representing a shift in treatment focus; by delivering treatment specific to the needs of the individual, they provide more holistic solutions and maximise patient outcomes.

eHealth technologies are blowing open the scope of telemedicine, and innovations are just beginning to address the challenges. An ageing and changing population with a shortage of specialised healthcare staff is the driving force behind German medical device companies’ pursuit of new solutions that streamline processes and provide healthcare facilities and service providers with more efficient modes of operation and delivery.

The challenges ahead

Adapting to the current global market seems to be the greatest challenge ahead for German medical device companies. Investors want more certainty in the results of the technologies produced, while patients want simpler processes and more manageable ways of dealing with the technologies available to them.

Data management is, of course, a huge consideration, and no market is better equipped to deal with the issues around privacy and access to data than Germany. Serge Bernasconi, CEO of MedTech Europe, EDMA (the European Diagnostic Manufacturers Association) and Eucomed (the European Confederation of Medical Suppliers Associations) discussed the issue in a blog post last year. ‘Big Data was omnipresent in 2014… we will have to demonstrate to all those worried about data privacy how anonymised data gathered from wearables and medtech is processed with the utmost care, safety and transparency, and used to make our world-class healthcare systems operate more efficiently, effectively and safely.’

Finding the balance between essential data collection that provides doctors with comprehensive information and, in many cases, makes technologies work, while maintaining patient privacy is of fundamental importance, especially in a highly privacy-conscious market such as Germany.

The benefits of these advances are that now, thanks in part to wearable technology, the medtech industry has more patient knowledge than ever before to drive innovation. Working collaboratively and responsively with changing human behaviours will continue to inspire greater innovations within the German medtech sector and only increase its global standing and reputation.

About the author

Melinda Barlow is an Australian freelance writer and editor, based in Berlin. Find Melinda on Twitter at @melindajbarlow.

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